Originally posted on GENRE IS DEAD!
For the past 30 years, Trent Reznor has created fearless, groundbreaking, and progressive music as Nine Inch Nails. He’s released several successful albums that fans still love, but none match the force and impact of 1994’s The Downward Spiral. It’s an ambitious, complex concept album that broke musical boundaries and was unapologetic in its discussion of addiction, mental health, and suicide. It’s a bleak album that turned out to be a hit with critics and fans alike, yet eerily foreshadowed Reznor’s own downward spiral.
25 years later, the album is considered his magnum opus. Its themes of isolation, nihilism, and depression still resonate today. There’s no doubt about its importance and the influence it continues to have on music. Its cultural significance, along with its themes, and history are the subject of Adam Steiner’s new book, Into the Never. Steiner chats with GENRE IS DEAD! about the book’s inspiration, why the album is so important, and why it still strikes a chord with people two decades later.
GENRE IS DEAD!: Into the Never looks at the history, making of, and cultural significance of Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. What inspired you to write this book?
Adam Steiner: I love The Downward Spiral, as an album, but also as a work of art; an artifact of one person’s experience articulated in such a raw, intense, and expressive form that at times pushes it beyond the realms of music. Being well immersed in the album I felt there were a lot of thematic, artistic, and biographical undercurrents that deserved to be explored. I felt the book needed to be written since the album offers so much in multiple directions that touch on philosophy, faith, and mental health issues than most albums.
For lots of fans, it’s the album that saved their life. It reflected some of their innermost anxieties, traumatic experiences, and perhaps most importantly the realization that they had struggled through something difficult. In this ironic sense, it had a life-affirming power of surviving some of life’s greatest challenges. There are also lots of wider social issues and pop culture interests that show a range of weird connections, like the album being recorded in the house where Sharon Tate was murdered, its relation to The Manson Family, and the whole imagery of the spiral as spiritual disintegration.
GID: There’s a lot to unpack with the album, which helped solidify its iconic status. But many of Nine Inch Nails’ releases are considered important, like Pretty Hate Machine, The Fragile, and even With Teeth. So why specifically did you want to talk about The Downward Spiral?
AS: Different fans have different favorites and so many of Nine Inch Nails’ releases are iconic in their own way, but I feel The Downward Spiral is the most iconic and far-reaching of them all. Similar to the Manic Street Preachers’ 1994 album, The Holy Bible, it achieved unique artistic success that went against all reason and logic. It’s something so alienating, misanthropic and irreconcilable to itself, yet was massively popular and achieved huge critical success. In many ways it, alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind influenced, or even defined, so much about Generation X: the resignation, the post-60s collapse of idealism in the face of new-liberal supremacy, the break with organized religion and the rise of sexual politics and identity.
Regarding other releases, Pretty Hate Machine is the unique album that started it all while fan-favorite The Fragile shows lots of depth and range not many bands could pull off. With Teeth is interesting because it comes after rehab and its Reznor reasserting his artistic legacy. Yet The Downward Spiral just blew up in terms of influence, cultural reach, and a singular artistic vision fulfilled.
Read the rest of the interview here.